In a Meeting

Operational Definition: What is Engagement?

Engagement relates to several other relevant bodies of literature. Both the National Center for Student Engagement and the Center for Community College Student Engagement refer to “active and collaborative learning,” which refers to  (as CCSSE states), “the extent to which students participate in class, interact with other students, and extend learning outside of the classroom.” Others (e.g., Margolis, 2001) have referred to the hidden, or implicit curriculum, whereby students learn more than what is explicitly stated for course, program, or institutional learning outcomes. This can include the increased expectations of college-level courses with regards to attendance, assignment completion, and involvement both within and outside the classroom.


Empirical Relationship to Success (Does it Predict Student Success?)

Several studies using NSSE and CCSSE data have supported the predictive validity of active and collaborative learning. In their review of high-impact practices, Kilgo, Sheets, and Pascarella (2014) found that practices focusing on active and collaborative learning were one of only two areas (undergraduate research being the other) that significantly impacted a majority of student learning outcomes. McClenney, Marti, and Adkins (2012), in reviewing research on the validity of the CCSSE survey, found active and collaborative learning to be correlated with both the number of terms enrolled and credits attained.

Looking at Engagement through other lenses, Credé, Roch and Kieszczynka (2010) conducted a meta-analysis on the predictive validity of class attendance, finding it to have larger predictive efficacy than high school grades or admissions test scores. Markle et al., (2013), found “meeting class expectations,” a scale similar to Engagement, to significantly predict first-semester GPA, retention, and grades in both math and English courses.

Practical Relationship to Success

The practical relationship between Engagement and student success is perhaps obvious. If students do not attend class and participate effectively, they are highly unlikely to be successful. This statement borders on trite to anyone working in higher education. 

However, there are two important notes to emphasize. First, students must be made aware of this importance in both policy and practice. For example, Credé, Roch and Kieszczynka found that mandatory attendance policies had a positive impact on actual student attendance. Moreover, efforts like orientation, student success courses, and advising cannot over-stress the importance of students engaging in their own learning.

Additionally, Engagement is a factor that can serve in a compensatory role for students. As an example, Li et al. (2013) looked at the classroom engagement of community college students in developmental math courses. A vast majority of students with high engagement passed the course, regardless of their incoming academic preparation. However, students with low engagement levels had extremely low passing rates if they entered with low academic preparation, while students with high academic preparation and low engagement still passed a majority of the time.

How do I help students improve in Engagement?

Engagement is a Strategy Factor.

This means that providing direct feedback, tools, and resources can help students build this skill.

Initial interventions for Engagement should focus on clarifying what is expected in a college-level course. Students may have difficulty distinguishing between what is "required" for a grade, and what greatly increases their chances of success. Students should understand early on how things like attendance - graded, required, or optional - relate to their success. 


You will note that there is a wealth of information on the Student Resource Hub. Indeed, much of this (e.g., the importance of attending class, completing assignments) may seem obvious to higher education practitioners. However, remember that each new student is entering college for the first time in their life, and adjusting to the culture and expectations of college is a transition that requires support.



Credé, M., Roch, S. G., & Kieszczynka, U. M. (2010). Class attendance in college: A meta-analytic review of the relationship of class attendance with grades and student characteristics. Review of Educational Research, 80(2), 272-295.

Li, K., Zelenka, R., Buonaguidi, L., Beckman, R., Casillas, A., Crouse, J., ... & Robbins, S. (2013). Readiness, behavior, and foundational mathematics course success. Journal of Developmental Education, 37(1), 14.

Margolis, E. (Ed.). (2001). The hidden curriculum in higher education. New York: Routledge.

Markle, R., Olivera-Aguilar, M., Jackson, T., Noeth, R., & Robbins, S. (2013). Examining evidence of reliability, validity, and fairness for the SuccessNavigator assessment. ETS Research Report (No. RR-13-12). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

McClenney, K., Marti, C. N., & Adkins, C. (2012). Student engagement and student outcomes: Key findings from. Community college survey of student engagement.